Advice to Help New Caregivers Get Organized

Advice to Help New Caregivers Get Organized

Dear Donna:

I recently returned home to Michigan from New York to help care for my parents. While I live close to them, we’re not in the same house. They both have different health concerns and need someone to oversee their care and household tasks.

My employer allows me to work remotely, but I still put in a lot of hours each week. I’m really struggling to get organized. Do you have any suggestions to help a new caregiver like me? I’m really overwhelmed.


Chris in Grand Haven, MI

Organizational Tips for New Family Caregivers

Dear Chris:

Assuming the role of family caregiver is a big undertaking. When you factor in your relocation and busy job, it’s easy to see why you are struggling. Here are some suggestions I hope will be beneficial:

  • Accept that you will need help.

Adult children often believe they should be able to manage their aging parents’ support on their own. Very rarely is this realistic. As you take on this new role, recognize that you will need to ask for and accept help. That support might come in many forms.

It could be asking a friend or family member to stay with your parents for an hour or two while you relax and see a movie or have your hair done. You could also ask a friend to pick up a few groceries or drop off dinner to your parents.

  • Organize caregiving details.

Many adult children say they feel an extraordinary amount of stress when they first step into the caregiving role. They may worry they won’t do a good job or fear they will overlook important appointments or tasks. Getting organized can help relieve some of that anxiety.

Begin by blocking out time to set up a system. Sort and organize your parents’ important health care paperwork and legal documents. If you need to, ask a friend or family member to sit with your parents so you can have this uninterrupted time.

Organize their paperwork in a binder by topic or date (e.g., test results, medication list, and physician contact information). Also check to see if their health care provider has an online portal your parents can access. Taking time to review visit summaries, test results, and other notes can give you a better picture of what’s been happening.

Next, add your parents’ appointments and follow-up tasks to your personal calendar. If there are household tasks that need to be completed, place those on your calendar, too. This helps to avoid double-booking yourself or missing something. Not having to rely on your memory can alleviate some of your stress. Apps like My Medical can make tracking and organizing easier.

  • Establish and stick to a routine.

This step may take some time, but having a routine can make caregiving more manageable. Try to cluster errands and appointments on one or two days each week. This will allow you to have uninterrupted blocks of time to work and handle your own needs.

It also requires fewer arrangements for a friend or family member to stay with your loved one. For example, if both parents have dentist appointments, schedule them concurrently. That allows you to make one trip instead of two.

  • Connect with a caregiver support group.

Caregivers face unique challenges that others may not understand. It can be very isolating. Having a group of peers who understand and can empathize is usually beneficial to a caregiver’s emotional and physical well-being. Support group members may have specific ideas for juggling work with a caregiving schedule.

Peers can also commiserate with you about the emotional side of caregiving. For example, if you are feeling guilty, resentful, angry, or sad, you’ll likely find people who’ve experienced those emotions too. You can even connect with a support caregiver group online, if that is easier on your schedule.

  • Practice good self-care.

Finally, follow the oxygen mask advice flight attendants share during their pre-flight safety talk: help yourself before helping others. Caregivers must make good self-care a priority. If you don’t, you’re more likely to experience a medical crisis of your own.

Respite services at assisted living communities may make that possible for you. Your parents can spend a week or so at a community while you take a vacation or just some time off.

I hope this information is helpful to you, Chris!

Kind regards,


What Is Melanoma and How Can You Avoid It?

What Is Melanoma and How Can You Avoid It?

Would you be surprised to hear that the most common type of cancer in this country is skin cancer? Research shows that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the age of 70. While the disease develops in people of all ages, seniors are the demographic diagnosed with it most often. The good news is that with early intervention, most forms of skin cancer are treatable.

One type, however, can be especially dangerous: melanoma. Deaths from melanoma are highest among people between the ages of 65 and 84. These age groups account for 50% of deaths caused by melanoma.

To raise awareness about this deadly form of skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology designates the first Monday in May as National Melanoma Monday.

8 Common Melanoma Risk Factors

While researchers can’t say for certain why some people develop melanoma and others don’t, there are some factors they believe might play a role:

  • Age and gender: Your age and sex can both impact your likelihood of developing melanoma. Before the age of 50, women are at higher risk. After 50, however, men face the greatest risk for melanoma.
  • Skin tone: Skin tone can increase a person’s odds for melanoma. People who are fair skinned usually sunburn more easily, putting them in a high-risk category. Caucasians with blond or red hair and blue or green eyes are at greatest risk.
  • Personal sunburns: Researchers say having one or more blistering sunburns at any age can increase your odds of developing melanoma. Most skin damage happens during childhood.
  • Family medical history: Ten percent of people who are diagnosed with melanoma have a first-degree relative—a parent, child, or sibling—who has also been diagnosed with the disease. Be sure to tell your physician if your family has a history of melanoma.
  • Moles: While most moles don’t lead to melanoma, some will. The more moles you have, the higher your risk of developing this serious form of skin cancer. Ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a dermatologist who can conduct a head-to-toe skin exam to identify any concerning moles.
  • UV radiation exposure: Tanning beds and sun lamps put off UV radiation. If you have used them, you are at higher risk for melanoma. Be especially vigilant in conducting self-exams and seeing the dermatologist for a check-up.
  • Location: Where you live also impacts your chance of developing melanoma. Those living close to the equator or in a higher elevation are at increased risk. Researchers believe it is because they are exposed to higher doses of the sun’s UV rays.
  • Weakened immune system: Some chronic health conditions, as well as cancer treatments, can weaken a person’s immune system. Research seems to indicate a person’s risk for melanoma rises when their immune system is compromised.

Learn to Recognize the Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology encourages people to conduct self-exams regularly. You might do it on the same day each month so you don’t forget. As you are examining your skin, follow the ABCDEs of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetrical: If one half of a mole is unlike the other, it should be evaluated by a physician.
  • Border: An irregularly shaped border on a mole can also indicate melanoma.
  • Color: A mole or moles that vary in color might be nothing to worry about but could also be an early symptom of melanoma. Check with your doctor to be sure.
  • Diameter: Size matters when it comes to moles. Larger skin growths, which dermatologists say are anything larger than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser), need to be looked at.
  • Evolving: Finally, keep an eye out for spots or moles that change in size or shape or are different from others. This is another potential sign of early melanoma.

As is true of many types of medical conditions, taking steps to protect yourself from disease is essential. Read 7 Skin Cancer Prevention Tips for Older Adults to learn what else you can do to decrease your risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

Tips for Gardening with a Senior Who Has Dementia

Tips for Gardening with a Senior Who Has Dementia

Dear Donna:

My dad has Alzheimer’s disease and recently moved in with me because it was becoming unsafe for him to live alone. While he still has a fairly good quality of life, his memory and judgment have declined.

As we head into planting season here in mid-Michigan, I’m considering having my dad garden with me. It’s a hobby I love and one that brings me such peace. I don’t want to give it up but I’m not sure how safe it is for my dad.

Any advice?


Julie in Saginaw, MI

Benefits of Gardening for Seniors with Alzheimer’s

Dear Julie:

Digging in the dirt is a great way to improve the quality of life for people of all ages. That includes people with most types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. The very act of gardening boosts mood whether or not a plant eventually grows. During warmer weather, you’ll often find residents and team members of the dementia care programs at Heritage Senior Communities enjoying this popular pastime.

For adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, gardening can have lasting benefits. It can:

  • Reduce pain, especially from arthritis
  • Improve attention span
  • Lower stress and agitation
  • Decrease need for medications
  • Improve strength and balance
  • Help minimize fall risk
  • Stimulate reminiscing
  • Foster emotional wellness

Gardening Tips for Family Caregivers

A few suggestions to help you and your dad stay safe while also enjoying your time together in the garden are:

  • Include in planning: Have your dad help pick out flowers and colors he likes. If he isn’t familiar with plant names or struggles with verbal skills, show him pictures from gardening magazines or websites. Encourage him to point out his favorites.
  • Designate space: If possible, have a section or corner of the garden specifically for your father. Consider installing a raised plant bed or containers so it’s safer and easier for him to access his vegetables and flowers.
  • Offer gentle reminders: Because adults with dementia typically have short-term memory loss, you’ll likely need to remind your dad when it’s time for certain tasks. Providing prompts to help him remember things like watering and fertilizing his area of the garden will be essential.
  • Plan pathways carefully: Build the garden around paths that form a circle. By keeping the path through your garden away from exits or gates, you might be able to prevent your dad from wandering out of the backyard. As Alzheimer’s progresses, that’s a common safety concern for families.
  • Incorporate benches: Be sure to place benches throughout the garden for your dad (and you!) to sit and rest. Because people with Alzheimer’s often struggle with mobility, having places to rest will be important.
  • Add water features: Finally, consider including fountains and water features along the pathway if you can. Your dad will likely enjoy them. Water provides positive stimulation to the senses while also helping to calm agitation and stress.

Best Plants to Grow for People with Alzheimer’s

Here are some suggestions for choosing plants for your garden:

  • Make sure to use only nontoxic plants. An adult with a memory impairment might try to eat pretty flowers that catch the eye. Check the Poison Control website for a list of harmful plants.
  • Use a variety of colors and smells to spark your dad’s senses. If he suffers from allergies, be careful with those that have high pollen count or strong fragrance, such as lilies and hyacinths.
  • Plant vegetables and herbs that you can pick together and use when preparing meals. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil, and parsley are all easy to grow in raised beds or containers.
  • Add vibrant herbs like lavender and rosemary to your joint garden. When they bloom, bring them inside to use in vases or sachets. Both offer stress-relieving benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Our final tip is more for you than your dad. Remember how much time you will be able to devote to gardening and choose plants with maintenance requirements that match your availability.

Wishing you and your dad happy gardening adventures this summer!

Kind regards,


The Health Benefits of Spring Cleaning a Senior’s Home

The Health Benefits of Spring Cleaning a Senior’s Home

April is a perfect month to attack spring cleaning projects at your home or a senior loved one’s. Cleaning the cobwebs from ceiling fans, getting rid of expired foods, and deep cleaning the stove are some tasks it might be time to tackle. A boost in spirit isn’t the only benefit of having a sparkling, tidy house.

We’ll look at rewards that come from helping your family member spring clean and share a list of chores not to overlook.

Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning does more than make your house look nice. Here are a few health benefits that come from an intensive cleanup:

  • Decluttering is essential: Purging the clutter that builds up over the winter lightens your mental load and provides clarity. It can also reduce the risk for falls, a leading cause of injury in older adults.
  • Getting rid of allergens: Cleaning the house of dust and particles can help prevent allergies, asthma, and respiratory illnesses from flaring up.
  • Finding peace: Getting your house in order can reduce stress and help you find peace. Chronic stress is linked to a variety of medical conditions ranging from high blood pressure to depression and digestive issues.

If you aren’t sure how and where to start, this checklist will be of interest.

Room-by-Room Spring Cleaning Tips for Seniors and Caregivers


The kitchen is one of the most heavily utilized rooms in a home. The constant use can make it harder to keep clean. Take time this spring to do the following chores:

  • Wipe the cabinets down inside and out. Change shelf paper, if necessary.
  • Take everything out of the refrigerator and freezer and wipe them down. Check expiration dates on condiments, dressings, and other items.
  • Inspect and clean the oven with a fume-free oven cleaner that won’t aggravate allergies or respiratory problems.
  • Check the exhaust system on the range to see if it needs cleaning. It’s an important step for reducing the risk of fire.
  • Empty the pantry and wipe down the shelves and floor. Dispose of items that are expired and donate foods that are good but likely won’t be used.


While most of us clean the bathroom regularly, it also needs a little extra attention a few times each year.

  • Change the shower liner and wash the curtain. Do the same with decorative towels.
  • Scrub the bathtub and shower and replace the bath mat, if necessary.
  • Sort through the medicine cabinet and safely dispose of no-longer-used or expired medications. Check with your pharmacy for advice on where and how to dispose of prescription medications.
  • Clean out the linen closet and donate older linens (especially towels) to a local animal shelter or veterinarian’s office.
  • Deep clean the toilet and the floor surrounding it. Replace or tighten the bolts on the toilet seat if it doesn’t seem secure.

Primary Bedroom

Give the senior’s bedroom extra attention this spring by doing the following:

  • Wash the curtains, bedding, blankets, mattress cover, and rugs.
  • Find a strong helper to help you flip or turn the mattress and box spring. Wipe both down along with the bed frame.
  • Use products specifically designed for cleaning miniblinds to remove dust and grime.
  • Use spring cleaning as an excuse to encourage your senior loved one to sort through their clothes and to donate items they no longer wear.

Living Areas

Books, magazines, newspapers, junk mail, and other clutter can quickly build up in living rooms. Make sure to declutter the room before you start deep cleaning. Box up items you need to drop off at your local recycling center.

Then tackle the following tasks:

  • Dust the woodwork and wipe down the window frames.
  • Use a long-handled duster to clean ceiling fans and lighting fixtures.
  • Use a static-free cloth to lightly swipe over the television and other electronics.
  • Vacuum under the sofa, as well as over and under sofa cushions.

Should time permit, you might also want to clean out the garage, attic, or shed. It will make downsizing easier should your loved one decide to move to a smaller home or a senior living community.

Is It Time for Senior Living?

As you and your loved one work your way through their house, use the time to discuss how happy they are with their current living environment. Is it getting to be too much for them? Do they feel isolated and lonely? Your family member might be struggling more than you realize. Encourage them to be honest and let them know you can work together to find a solution, such as home care services or a local senior living community.

For older adults in Michigan and Indiana, exploring one of the local Heritage Senior Living communities might be helpful. Call the nearest location with any questions you have or to schedule a tour and lunch at your convenience!

How Can I Convince My Siblings to Help with Caregiving?

How Can I Convince My Siblings to Help with Caregiving?

Dear Donna:

My mom has lived alone in an older house since my dad passed away almost three years ago. Her home is in a rural area of Michigan without any close neighbors. My brother, sister, and I all live about 20 minutes away from her.

Over the last two years, my mom’s health has started to decline. While I’m more than happy to help, most of the caregiver duties seem to fall to me. My siblings just haven’t stepped up to provide any support to our mom. I am the oldest child, but I’m no less busy with my own family and job than they are.

I’m starting to be very resentful of my siblings. I don’t even want to be around them or call them. I realize I need to take steps to fix this, but I’m not sure how. What can I do to get them to pitch in and help with our mom’s care?


Cindy in Saginaw, MI

Getting Siblings to Help Care for a Parent

Dear Cindy:

First, know that working together to manage a parent’s care can strain even the closest family relationships. In a study conducted by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, only 1 in 10 family caregivers say responsibilities are shared equally and without conflict among loved ones.

As you’ve discovered, one family member usually shoulders much of the burden, and it’s often the eldest daughter. What I usually suggest to primary caregivers is to identify, if possible, the reasons why siblings aren’t helping.

In many cases, loved ones don’t know how or where to start. Providing more structure and specific requests for help might be necessary. Other sources of friction we’ve witnessed are:

  • Differing opinions: Adult children don’t always see eye-to-eye on how much or what type of care a parent needs. In your situation, for example, your mother sounds like she might be an ideal fit for an assisted living community. Since you are the primary caregiver, this might not be a big surprise to you. But your siblings who don’t see her or help as much might not agree.
  • Emotional struggle: Watching your mom’s health decline is probably difficult for all of you. Some adult children may avoid visiting an aging parent because they can’t process what is happening. A sibling who is going through this may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional.
  • Disputes about money: Another source of feuds that occur when a senior loved one needs care is money. Adult children may disagree on how to spend—or not spend—a parent’s money. Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for siblings to clash over spending money on professional senior care because of the impact on potential inheritance.

Some people feel unsure of where to start when it comes to caregiving. They often benefit from being given specific tasks or dates to provide assistance to an aging parent. If this is the case for your siblings, we have some suggestions for getting started.

Organizing Siblings to Help with Senior Care

Working with siblings to care for an aging parent takes a coordinated approach. Whether you are trying to find a new doctor for a senior loved one or deciding between two assisted living communities, it’s important to put aside your differences.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you all create a plan for your mom’s care:

  • Assign specific tasks: Create a list of tasks and appointments for which your mom needs help. Split them up evenly and put it in writing. Try to get your siblings to set a date for when general tasks (e.g., cleaning the gutters or stocking the freezer) will be completed.
  • Communicate regularly: Staying in close touch is essential for avoiding misunderstandings. It’s usually best to meet in person or by video chat instead of via text message.
  • Let it go: Don’t let resentment and old sibling rivalries keep you from doing what is in your parent’s best interest. Instead of hanging on to old wounds and slights, let it go. The added stress isn’t good for you or your parent.
  • Seek unbiased guidance: Unfortunately, some families reach an impasse and just can’t find ways to work together. This is where the guidance of an unbiased third party might help. It could be your mom’s rabbi or pastor. You might even want to turn to their physician or nurse practitioner for advice if the issue is deciding on care solutions. Finally, another option is to enlist the services of an aging life care professional.

I hope this information is useful to you, Cindy! Best of luck to you and your family.

Kind regards,